LITTLE ROCK, AR—Former President Bill Clinton addressed representatives from 170 schools from across the country in late July at the first Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Schools Forum. More than 200 schools from 12 states, including many schools where children are most at risk for obesity, are part of the Alliance's Healthy Schools Program pilot year and will receive hands-on technical support to make their school healthier.
President Clinton encouraged participants to be agents of change in their communities and gave guidance to schools nationwide about how to create healthy environments for their students and staff members by announcing the Alliance's Healthy Schools Criteria. The forum, which is being held at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR, is sponsored by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation. The Forum marks the official launch of the Alliance's Healthy Schools Program.
"I am thrilled to be here today with members of these schools who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of making their schools healthier places for their children to learn," said President Bill Clinton. "I believe these standards can be a great step forward in shaping the health, education, and well-being of the next generation and they will encourage more and more schools to provide healthy environments for the millions of students in America's schools today. Thank you all for coming, and I look forward to working with all of you."
To address the root causes of childhood obesity, the Alliance recognizes not just the vital role played by nutrition, but also the critical need for environments like playgrounds that encourage kids to be physically active. That is why after announcing the Healthy Schools Criteria, President Clinton announced a new partnership with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America and which will mobilize communities to build new playgrounds in a number of pilot schools across the country.
In February, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation announced the Healthy Schools Program, a criteria-based recognition program that rewards schools for creating a healthier place for students to learn. The criteria outlines standards that address food offerings in school cafeterias and competitive foods, physical activity during and after the school day, physical education and health education and staff wellness programs. Schools across the country can apply for recognition at the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels. The criteria can be found on the Alliance Web site (http://www.HealthierGeneration.org ).
A key component of the Healthy Schools Program is the provision of support and assistance to schools striving to meet the criteria. The Forum is the first time the schools participating in the support portion of the program will be publicly announced. More than 200 schools from 12 states are currently enrolled in the pilot program and will receive direct assistance from the alliance to help them assess their current school environment, develop action plans and implement changes that will make their school environments healthier.
In this first year, the program is focusing on schools whose student population, based on specific socio-economic and demographic factors, is most at risk for obesity. Ironically, these children are often the last to receive help and interventions from programs like the Healthy School Program because they are the most difficult to reach. By implementing the Healthy Schools Program first in at-risk schools and testing the program in the most challenging environments, it is expected that the program will achieve long-term success across all student populations.
"What makes the Healthy Schools Program stand out is its hands-on approach to helping schools gain recognition," said Dr. Raymond Gibbons, president of the American Heart Association. "We aren't just releasing a set of criteria and expecting schools to reach those goals on their own, but we are giving them support along the way. In addition, the program is different from other school health efforts in that it recognizes achievements around broader, school-wide change, rather than just one aspect of health such as physical activity or nutrition."
The Forum provides participants with opportunities to learn skills that will help them change the environments in their schools to better promote health and wellness among students and staff. Keynote speakers include President Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher and Dr. Howell Wechsler, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Division of Adolescent and School Health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided the initial grant to support the Healthy Schools Program.
Making changes in the school environment is one strategy in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's comprehensive effort to reduce childhood obesity across the nation. The Alliance has also partnered with kids' television network Nickelodeon on the Let's Just Play Go Healthy Challenge, an on-air, online and grassroots effort to mobilize kids to adopt healthy lifestyles. To date, more than 100,000 kids have pledged to Go Healthy as a result of the campaign.
Recently, the Alliance and the nation's largest beverage companies announced new guidelines that will help schools provide lower calorie and more nutritious beverage to students. These guidelines are part of the Healthy School Program criteria. The Alliance hopes that its work with the beverage industry sets the stage for working with other industries that can help schools make healthy choices easier for students.